January 12, 2013

Kendare Blake: "Anna Dressed in Blood"

Title: Anna Dressed in Blood [on Amazon | on Goodreads]
Series: Anna (1st of 2 books)
Author: Kendare Blake [Site | Goodreads]
Genres: Supernatural, Horror
Year: 2011
Age: 12+
Stars: 4/5
Pros: Haunting story. Full-fledged characters. Strong mythology.
Cons: Gory details (if you can't stomach them). Some inconsistencies (that will be addressed in the review).

WARNING! If you're over-sensitive about animals dying in books, you might approach this one with caution.
Will appeal to: Those who like their ghosts multifaceted. Those who need a romantic quality in their horror. Those who don't but can tolerate a small amount of it.

Blurb: Cas Lowood has inherited an unusual vocation: he kills the dead. So did his father before him, until he was gruesomely murdered by a ghost he sought to kill. Now, armed with his father's mysterious and deadly athame, Cas travels the country with his kitchen-witch mother and their spirit-sniffing cat. They follow legends and local lore, destroy the murderous dead, and keep pesky things like the future and friends at bay. Searching for a ghost the locals call Anna Dressed in Blood, Cas expects the usual: track, hunt, kill. What he finds instead is a girl entangled in curses and rage, a ghost like he's never faced before. (Amazon excerpt)

Review: (Yes, this is not technically an "offbeat" book. On the contrary, you could say it's mainstream stuff. But you may expect me to agree with the majority of readers occasionally ;). Sometimes a good book is universally recognized - thank heavens for that! So watch me review a successful book and be proud of it ;D).
First off, this is a remarkable debut novel. It doesn't read like the very first book of a newbie author. Blake handles her material and prose with a great amount of confidence. There are recognizable pop-culture influences of course (I'll elaborate later), but they are for the most part conscious and even ironically underlined. Even a new take of an old story (the hitchhiker-from-hell episode) sounds fresh and interesting. We are propelled in mid-action thanks to that, and given an immediate and thorough understanding of Cas' life and purpose. The first chapter is an excellent mood-setting for the whole book. Cas' quiet, matter-of-factly voice makes us understand that he's already an old hand at what he does. Actually, he's been hunting ghosts for three years, since he was 14. I found a bit hard to believe that Cas' mother was able to accept his "job" with such serenity. Yes, it was her husband's call before - but since he was killed while ghost-hunting, one would expect her to wrestle with Cas all the time about going down the same road. Though her being a witch helps gaining a perspective (?), I suppose. So the two of them (plus their cat Tybalt) are constantly travelling from place to place, for Cas to hunt and kill his ghosts. He does that with his father athame, a knife with peculiar qualities, that Cas believes to be linked to his own blood.
Cas is in Thunder Bay on what could be a typical errand: killing a murderous ghost called Anna Korlov. But something about this 16-years-old, more-than-50-years-dead girl makes him uneasy (this is not logically explained). While searching for the best approach to Anna's ghost, Cas ends up teaming with queen bee Carmel and psychic nerd Thomas (only, the queen bee attitude is mostly a façade, and the psychic nerd is actually developing a crush for her). Other kids from school get in the way, with disastrous results - though one could say that Cas was careless, at the very least, or tragedy would not have stricken. Truth is, Anna is no common ghost, but a powerful goddess of death, though she can't leave the house she was murdered in. So, Cas and his friends (among which Gideon, an old English pal of his father, and Morfram, Thomas' grandfather) must come up with a clever plan to destroy her. Only, Anna is not just a homicidal ghost, but also a helpless girl trapped in her own nightmare, and with a soft spot for Cas - though she's aware he's come to kill her. [...]

Without giving too much of the story away, I will comment that Blake did a great job with Anna's murder and the dress symbolism/shifting. The scene where the two dresses fight one another on her is highly imaginative and wonderfully fleshed out. The double-ghost episode, when the kids sort of rehearse Anna's killing, falls under the same cathegory: pure genius. (Not to talk about all the people Anna killed in the house and the rendezvous Cas has with them - at first mere puppets Anna can turn against him, then vindicative beings she has to stay away from). Complications arise when the athame is stolen, more people (and not only people) die, and an old nemesis returns, threatening Anna - now a friend of Cas' - herself. Also, the athame turns out to be much more than Cas ever dreamt of (or had nightmares about). All this is enthralling and juicy and of course disturbing - but deliciously so. And Anna's death is a powerful, pitiful, terrible episode. And oh the ultimate villain/nemesis! I'm in awe. I can't go into details because it would be a major spoiler, but this...thing...has a great, fresh, scary mythology attached.
I have some minor complaints against this book, enough for me to subtract a star from the maximum rating. I've already pointed out one of the inconsistencies - Cas' mother being too accepting. Besides, talking about the kids, it seems unlikely that a queen bee would let herself be sucked into this nightmare like Carmel does, and even strike a deep friendship with Cas and Thomas (as for Thomas, there's also an improbable edge to their relationship). All while still mantaining the queen bee status - despite the fact that both Cas and (especially) Thomas are frowned upon by all her friends. In addition to this, I can understand why Cas is fascinated by Anna, but I'm not really sure why she cares for him in the first place - her explanation sounds weak, since she's been a murderous ghost for years and knows he's come to send her away for good. Last but not least, when I read Cas' statement "I finally found a girl I could really be with" my eyes started to do a funny dance around themselves. This is a bit of a stretch, to put it mildly - with her being a former killer, and, well, still very much dead. But...don't be mistaken - you have a great story here. A story that sucks you in. Told in a darn good prose. Hence the 4 stars. Because you know, I'm the kind of person who watches, say, a Supernatural episode, and takes a wild pleasure in it - then the final credits roll in, and I begin to see all the reasons why something or the other would not have worked in real life (I'm not talking about the necessary suspension of disbelief of course, or I wouldn't be watching). But this doesn't mean I wasn't enthralled in the first place. Darn, it was emotive. And that's why I keep watching...or, in this case, reading...
...Speaking of TV series, here goes the pop-culture-reference game. Blake herself quotes (though with a touch of autoirony) both Ghostbusters and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and someone has already made a comparison between Cas-Carmel-Thomas and Buffy-Willow-Xander (though Willow is actually the nerd type and not the popular girl). There's even a Giles rip-off (it's more of an homage, of course) called Gideon, with his English breed and occult library. And similar magic supplies stores/shops in both stories. And a character named Will (short for William) Rosenberg, that of course makes one think of Will (short for Willow) Rosenberg from the series. But this is not all. Because the family knife and the dead father in the same line of work - so to speak - are clearly shouting Supernatural (just substitute the magic Colt for the athame), and in the very first pages there are several characters whose names are the same as (or similar to) Supernatural's ones, such as Mr. Dean, Lisa, Robby (variant of Bobby) and Anna herself...not to mention Cas, short for Cassius, who shares his nickname with Cas, short for Castiel...!
One last trivia...in the first pages, Cas refers to his mother's cat as "it" - then he's suddenly switching to "he". I guess it's a mere mistake, though it may have something to do with the love/hate relationship between the two. 
I have to spend a couple of words about the artwork too. It's not only gorgeous, but even fitting! So rare, you know. Usually, we have a blond girl on the cover when the main lead is a brunette and viceversa...or the symbolism is all off...I could go on for hours. Here, we have a solid project. Anna, the house, the colours, the dress (just a tad below her knees like the story tells us) - everything is perfect. Not to mention the dried-blood colour used for the print. LOL.
That's all folks! Finally. Only, I'll post a picture in a moment...in the meantime:

For quotes from this books click here.
For my review of "Girl of Nightmares" (second installment in the series) click here.
For more Supernatural books click here.

Another ADIB cover - the dress is actually
all bloody here

4 comments:

  1. Ciao Roberta,
    ma sai che è venuto davvero bene il modello di post e la grafica in generale.. sei stata brava!!
    Mi sono iscritta :P ciao!!!

    Ximi

    ReplyDelete
  2. Grazie!!! sia per avermi dato l'input, sia per i complimenti (che appunto devi rivolgere in parte a te stessa) sia per il following...mi fa estremamente piacere che tu sia venuta a trovarmi a distanza di tempo e ti sia appunto iscritta...evidentemente solo per il piacere di farlo. Purtroppo non posso pubblicizzarti qui, visto che non credo qualcuno sappia l'italiano!
    Io ogni tanto vengo a vedere se da te ci sono novità...non sono riuscita a trovare il "Follow by email" nel tuo sito...

    ReplyDelete
  3. I bought this book a few months ago but haven't gotten around to read it.I bought it because lots of reviewers said it would appeal to supernatural fans, and that's like my favorite show ever!

    Perhaps based on your review it will be the next book i pick up!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Glad I was able to raise your interest! And BTW, I've watched a lot of Supernatural episodes and like the show as well :).

      Delete

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